By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor
There are moments when I absolutely have to be in the room. Saturday night was one of those times.
Two hometown guys who’ve made it large were performing in celebration of the Strand Theater, newly revived and the best, most hopeful thing that’s happened in Hudson Falls in a long time.
Tony DeSare, performing in his hometown “for the first time since high school,” told the packed house that in his travels across the country (and around the world) as a jazz and pop singer/pianist, “when communities come together,” as Hudson Falls has done to turn a disused theatre into the now handsome, revived, thriving Strand, “that’s the key” to success in small town revitalization.
“I see it everywhere I go. Congratulations to my hometown, Hudson Falls.”
The Strand renovation is happening without the multi-million-dollar funding that came our way in creating the Charles Wood Theater in Glens Falls’ vacant former Woolworth’s store.
The Strand is grass-roots, low-budget, powered-by-a-dream, but it has the crucial component of a visionary, hands-on leader, Jonathan Newell, driving the bus.
As a musician, he set about making a space performers love playing in. Jonathan has the contacts to bring in big-name stars as well as local. Glens Falls’s vintage Marcabes were another opening weekend attraction.
As a lifelong Hudson Falls guy, he understands local audiences, too. Classic rock scores big. And lots of people Saturday night brought beer and wine to their seats.
Shows have been happening at the revived Strand for three years, but Jonathan shrewdly made this the official opening weekend. No better headliner than Tony, beloved HF grad. He was joined by his classmate Tedd Firth (they scheduled the gig to coincide with their 25th year Hudson Falls High School reunion), who has gone on to his own major-league music career, as a pianist/arranger in New York. I really enjoyed his playing at this show.
They were backed by Tony’s own rhythm section — drums, bass, Edward Decker on seven-string guitar — and a 13-piece Big Band (five saxophones, four trombones and four trumpets — wow!) assembled for this gig from the Capital District. Tony said he’d only met them that day. They made it work just reading the sheets.
Tony, Tedd and ensemble did two benefit shows — Saturday night, Sunday afternoon. Both sold out long before show-time, $40 a ticket, $30 for seniors. Tony’s parents, wife and son watched from the front row of the balcony.
Jonathan said the theater was a shambles just hours before the start, but it all came together in the nick of time. Hanging the chandelier that now adorns the ceiling was one of the late feats. The Strand looks sensational, especially having seen it when they first bought the former town hall from Kingsbury and set about bringing it back to its original purpose.
Tony’s repartee is always as spot-on as his singing and showmanship, and it was all the better here at home.
He told of meeting Tedd Firth for the first time when they were in “Mrs. Braydon’s third-grade class.”
“I transferred from Dix Avenue,” Tony said. “Tedd was given the assignment” to tour him around the school.
Then, Tony said, “In music class, Mrs. Blackburn would wheel in her piano and Tedd would play for the class. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. That’s actually what made me want to play the piano.”
Tony regaled us with everything from “Fly Me to the Moon” to “Great Balls of Fire.” I especially liked Billy Strayhorn’s sad “Lush Life” written when he was 16 and the next-to-last “I’m Gonna Live Until I Die.” The encore was “New York, New York,” the audience singing along.
Safe to say nobody left the Strand disappointed.
I was loving the energy in the room. Tears came to my eyes, moved by the magnitude of this achievement. The concert and the Strand fueled pride and can-do confidence. Something big and good has happened here.
Copyright © 2019 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.